By Nancy Trejos and WAKEUP CALL
The hotel room key card may become as obsolete as the brass room key it replaced. Door lock vendors have developed the technology to let smartphones function as keys, and the hotel industry is starting to experiment with it.
The keys are activated through smartphone apps. When guests check in through the app, the hotel sends them their room numbers and enables the phones to act as virtual keys. Sensors in the door can detect and verify the phone through technology such as Bluetooth LE.
“We’re eliminating keys,” Phil Dumas, president of UniKey, which is partnering with Miwa Lock to offer keyless entry, said at this week’s HITEC hospitality technology conference. “You can completely bypass the front desk.”
Starwood Hotels and Resorts is testing out virtual keys on iPhones and Androids at the Aloft Harlem in New York and Aloft Cupertino in California. The company plans to roll it out to other hotel brands next year.
Hotel Tonight, the last-minute hotel room booking mobile app, said this week it would offer mobile check-in and “keyless entry” powered by Brivo Labs on Android devices. The technology won’t work unless the hotels install compatible hardware on their door locks. Hotel Tonight says it is in talks with major global hotel brands to adopt the technology.
Hotel companies have been reluctant to invest in changing or retrofitting locks.
“Depending on the door lock, that could mean replacing the whole door, which is not cheap,” says Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting firm.
Despite the challenges, he says most hotels will adopt keyless entry in the next five to 10 years.
Several door lock companies, such as OpenWays and y!kes, showed off their keyless capabilities at HITEC.
In many cases, guests don’t even have to wave their phones in front of the lock. The sensor detects the signal in the phone even if it’s in the guest’s pocket.
“You actually don’t have to interact with your phone anymore,” Dumas says.
That raises some security concerns that the companies are addressing, says Peter Klebanoff, senior vice president of business development for the Americas at OpenWays, which also offers mobile keys.
For instance, a housekeeper could walk by and accidentally open a door. Klebanoff says that capability could be turned off, and housekeepers would be required to wave their phones in front of the lock.
As for cost, Peter Klebanoff, senior vice president of business development for the Americas at OpenWays, and other mobile key company executives say hotels don’t have to replace door locks. Adapters can be installed inside or near the locks in an unobtrusive way.